Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spirituality versus Spiritualizing the World

Since I'm often very clear and explicit that Paul turned Jesus's teachings upside down, I get occasional emails from Paul fans, and I thought it was time to clarify something. Saul/Paul and the Christian theology he founded are extremely useful as teaching examples of how the ego reinterprets Jesus (and we all do it!), once you understand the differences. But like anything else if we don't look at it, the learning opportunity is lost on us, and the critical difference is in looking at it with Jesus, so that indeed we can see in Paul merely a brother who dramatizes for us our own mistakes in pulling Jesus down into the world, and making the world very real, and then covering over our mistake by spiritualizing the result and dressing it up in religious sentiment, which merely obfuscates our attempt of making the world real and ourselves important. In our present time, we like to be important ACIM teachers, just as much as Paul transformed Jesus's intention of teaching the oneness of the sonship, into a togetherness of a community which subscribed to a set of beliefs about Jesus, which Paul and those who followed after were in charge of defining.

The apotheosis of this line of thinking is truly in the Nicene Creed, which truly becomes a formula of a set of rational beliefs, and almost a mantra which will magically ensure that we will go to heaven when we die: all clearly manifestations of the ego's model of the world of time and space, including the incarnation of souls into the body, meaning that the body has primacy, not the spirit, as Jesus had taught, but which was misunderstood by a religion founded in his name which celebrated the crucifixion of his body, not the resurrection of the spirit.

In terms of the transition from the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Paul, we don't have to go far. By Romans 2:4 he starts throwing the judgment of God around, quite in contrast to Jesus whose ministry is founded on the forgiveness of sins. Regarding his views on resurrection, passages like Hebrews 11:35 make it clear that he thinks of resurrection as something after physical death. So it becomes part of what follows a good life on earth, and the notion we find in the Gospel of Thomas that this life here on earth IS death, so that Resurrection becomes waking up from this life- it is not there in Paul. Instead there is concern with convincing the neighbors.

The fine line is that true spirituality would teach that the ego is not true, whereas in any effort to spiritualize the world or anything in it, form is the cause meaning, not meaning the cause of form. That sounds abstract and elusive, but it is quite clear, in particular in the example of the crucifixion and the explanation which Jesus gives in the Course in which the meaning of the crucifixion is given as “Teach only love for that is what you are.” (T-6.III.2.4) In other words Jesus here teaches by his spiritual attitude that the world and the body are not what they seem to be. Conversely the Christian explanation of the crucifixion for which Paul lays the groundwork, sees meaning in the act of Jesus' death by crucifixion and rationalizes it with the sacrificial theology of vicarious salvation: he dies so we get off the hook. So here a pseudo spiritual rationalization seeks to justify a gruesome event, by ascribing salvific value to is.

Thus spiritualizing the world becomes simply a methodology of justifying the ego, and it is this which Christianity does throughout. It is another example of a beautiful and elaborate frames, quite in the spirit of the section “The Two Picutes,” in which it is clear that we should look for the content of the picture, and not be distracted by the form. Along these lines I can't help but remember being in Rome as a high school kid, and we got a tour of the Sta. Maria Maggiore, which is of course a gorgeous cathedral, and the Dutch priest who volunteered to give us the tour, because he overheard us speaking Dutch, waxed poetical about the golden ceiling and how it was made from the first gold Columbus had brought from the New World, and being somewhat precocious I said out loud what was on my mind: “Ah, just like I thought, it's all built on rape, murder and robbery.” The poor priest turned around and left us standing there in the middle of the tour. Yet of course this is fundamentally the picture, ever since the time of Constantine “the Great,” when Christianity really was put in the service of the state, the world and the ego in the most explicit sense thinkable, and that has never changed. Even in our own day the Pope is thought to have political relevance, and he seems quite concerned with that.

To come back to Paul for one more moment, of course there are many wonderful sections in his work and he is undoubtedly a towering intellectual figure, yet the overall influence is away from spirituality, and towards justifying and spiritualizing this life on earth. And therein lies the rub.

Rogier F. van Vlissingen, © 2006.

The Voice of One Crying in the Desert

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, as the KJV has it in Mk. 1:3. It is the soundless sound we hear at the dawning of reality on the dream-sleep of the ego-world. When the reality of who we are in truth for the first time cracks the shell of the substitute reality we have made up and superimposed upon creation as the expression of our choice for separation, and starts us looking for "another way."

I would like to suggest here that the usual historical cum phenomenological distinctions within Christianity are less than useful from the point of view of those who are looking to follow the spiritual path which Jesus represented, and which was bombarded "Christianity," only by dint of theological concepts which Paul put in Jesus's mouth through his influence on the editing of those Gospel stories which were to become "canonical," and thus included in the New Testament as the accepted wordly version and interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. That theology was the rationalization of the ego's need to separate, and provided Paul with a suitably glamorous career option.

In the following I should like to suggest that a more useful distinction is along the lines of content, not form, and moreover is very simple to make. Pauline Christianity is a reinterpretation of Jesus and his teachings, and I would suggest a complete reconstruction of who and what he was, based primarily on Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He thought he saw Jesus, and was overwhelmed with guilt about his prior prosecution of Christians, and now decided to become one himself.

As anybody knows who has spent some time in their current lifetime being a spiritual seeker of one sort or another, we are terribly likely to confuse the medium and the message, form and content, and go off on wild tangents which we then subsequently regret. Such it was with Paul. The most common form of spiritual misadventure is one in which we interpret an experience that may be of a revelatory nature in the context of the old ego framework, and thereby pervert it. And God forbid, if we're successful at it we may even start another movement or religion. Religious history is littered with those phenomena, for they become schools of thought, and various denominations within the context of church history. The most salient characteristic perhaps is that the specific teacher who developed those ideas becomes important. Paul of course is the primary example and in the end indirectly declares himself a saint, which is a convenience afforded those who help found a major institution like the church.
Paul is the primary founder of that institution in concept, since it is he who puts the core concepts of Christian theology into Jesus's mouth, through his influence on the redaction of he Gospel stories, most particularly Luke and Acts as a combined book (which it originally was), which serves the purpose of legitimizing Paul's reconstruction of Jesus, and the development of a theology based on his perceptions of Jesus, which he blithely declares to be better than the real thing. Eucharist, vicarious salvation, resurrection in the flesh, and second coming as a future event in the world, as Jesus coming TO the world, are all Pauline constructs, and reflect a dualistic teaching which makes the world real.

No wonder that it took just a few finishing touches over the next couple of hundred years, before this teaching became suited to be a state religion under Constantine the Great. Earlier, the Roman Empire saw a threat in Christianity because of Jesus' teachings that a "Kingdom not of this world" was the real deal. Under the redaction of Paul and his followers however, the world is made very real, and the Second Coming safely put off till what is for all intents and purposes infinity, so the ego can have a field day, and Emperors subsequently no longer need to see it as a threat. Constantine correctly saw the marketing opportunity for what it was and based his powergrab on the Christian hunger for recognition.

The central themes of Pauline Christianity are: making the world real by emphasizing Jesus's and God's role in it (the creator God), vicarious salvation, Jesus' exclusive claim to being God's son, and us as adopted sons and daughters, resurrection in the flesh, and a Second Coming in the future. Hell and damnation shall rain upon you and yours if you don't believe it, and a good deal of the belief in sin, guilt and fear forms the seasoning in the stew of the Pauline epistles. Very noticeable also is the need to proselytize, to convince others of the righteousness of these beliefs, and its corollary belief that our salvation will depend on convincing others. The latter is a form of attack, which was to lead to prosecutions and religious wars in the end.

The other principal manifestation of Christianity I would like to call Johannine Christianity after John the Baptist, where the emphasis is on actually following Jesus as a path of spiritual development, in which the first step is to be a follower of John, learning to transcend the ego's automatic valuation of everything in life into good and bad for our ego-based personality, but rather to learn to see everything that comes our way as a blessing in disguise, as a learning opportunity to advance our spiritual learning, a spiritual classroom. It is this John (whose role can be played by any number of people, and does not need to be any specific person, but an experience), who helps us transcend our ego-judgments and sets us on a path where in due course we will meet Jesus. "There must be another way," the now famous phrase of Bill Thetford which "led" to the writing down of the Course, is a reflection of hearing this call (the voice calling in the desert.)

Mary Magdalen, the apostle to the apostles, Valentinus, A Course In Miracles, Angelus Silezius and countless others belong in this category. The only reason not more is known of their "history" is that by definition they do not build buildings, or otherwise focus on leaving behind a lot of monuments, though there may be writings, artwork, or oral tradition. The only reason to use the term Christianity at all, when Jesus so clearly was identified as a Jew, in my view would only be historical convenience, and the fact that Jesus in the Course does refer to being a Christian in this sense a few times. However, in terms of content, arguably much of the Chassidic movement in Judaism could belong under this category, because it was a powerful reflection of Johannine consciousness, and a living expectation of the coming of the Messiah, though again often it got stuck in making the world real. The culmination of Johannine consciousness is what the Course calls the Happy Learner, at which point, like John the Baptist we can be useful to others by assisting in their baptism of life. This makes sense only if you realize that the theological constructs which Paul c.s. used to split off Christianity from Judaism as a new religion, were not taught by Jesus at all.
In fact, Jan Willem Kaiser, the Dutch author on spirituality whose work I'm translating, suggested this notion of Chassidism as a reflection of Johannine-consciousness in his writing fifty years ago. He was good friends with Prof. Martin Buber, who was also a frequent speaker at Kaiser's Open Field conferences on sprituality. We need to see the Judaeo-Christian tradition as an organic whole, and not be distracted too much by the specifics. In the end probably all of the Abrahamic religions will need to learn to understand each other much better, close relatives that they are. We might even decide that in spite of her pre-Vatican II theology, Mother Theresa might have a home of sorts on the Johannine side of this line, as might some Catholic saints, and perhaps even some Sufi teachers could easily cross over. The critical point here that it is content, not form which matters, and a living relationship with Jesus is the primary notion. A present life of the spirit.

It is in fact J. W. Kaiser who uses the disctinction between Johannine and Pauline Christianity, but he uses the term as it sometimes has been in the past, associating it with John, the beloved disciple - and that would be equally valid for similar reasons as argued above. The bottom line is that we start seeing two paths, a dualistic one in the world, which becomes a religion, and a worldly institution, and an inner path of non-dualistic spirituality, of which most evidence has been obliterated, burned, destroyed or suppressed, if any physical evidence was left behind at all.

Looking at the landscape in this manner is a convenient way of sorting through the clutter of religious phenomena. In the end it is very simple to understand why the Pauline model of Christianity, never mind all the hair-splitting, is essentially a necessity if you are to believe in the reality of the world. So is an external savior who comes to rescue us in the end. All's well that ends well, is the implied message, which is very soothing, in this not always pleasant world - no wonder Marx called religion opium for the people, except that he forgot that Marxism is a religion also.
The alternative path is the path of inner growth, of taking up your cross (i.e. taking responsibility for your life) and following him, out of this world, i.e. learning to hear and ultimately live and become his message. The Course is perhaps the most complete, thorough and consistent expression of this type of spirituality we've ever known, certainly within the Judaeo-Christian framework proper. With the addition of "The Disappearance of the Universe" as a sort of popular-language compendium and corollary to the Course the living presence of Jesus as our Inner Teacher is arguably an easier choice to make today than at any previous time in history. We might also note that Jesus in the NT really is depicted as carrying out his ministry in street language with ordinary people, and "Disappearance" brings the Course to the vernacular of today, without compromising it one iota.

Another way of looking at this distinction is that Johannine Christianity as defined here, reflects what Jesus taught, while Pauline Christianity is what the ego hears, and then turns around and explains to others in terms of reference which make sense to it. It is a translation of his message into language the world can accept without the need to wake up from the dream. Now interestingly, the second at least in an external sense kept the news alive in the consciousness of the world, if nothing else by printing piles of Bibles, and lo and behold, the Bible can be read with the right mind as well as with the wrong mind, as the Course hints several times. And so the lines are fluid in reality, and over the centuries people have come through Christianity, and transcended it in various ways to still find their inner relationship with Jesus, for it does not depend on any "right" theology, but only on experience.

The "Voice of One Crying in the Desert" ultimately is nothing else but the dualistic experience (duality is metaphor - not an actual voice) of a memory of our non-dualistic reality, which we frequently experience as disconcerting fractures in the ego's so seemingly fool proof system, an event, a remark, etc. But as the Course reminds us, the ego's system may be fool proof, but it is not God-proof (ACIM:T-5.VI.10:6). So the cracks in the system show up in a variety of ways. People who realize they never believed what they heard in Catechism class, for the explanations did not make sense, and they start looking on their own. Bill Thetford looking for "another way." Etc. all of that is the intrusion of the memory of our spiritual reality into the dualistic substitute-reality of the ego, and if we hear the call and take heed, it will be the start of our spiritual path, which is why the Gospel of Mark expresses so clearly that the coming of John is the beginning of the path of salvation (Gospel). Once we begin to follow this inner voice, it will lead us ultimately into a relationship with our own Inner Teacher.

The path of spiritual growth which we now embark upon has us get up and fall down many times, as did the apostles in the Bible. Of this process the Course in T-2.III.3:10 says: "The outcome is as certain as God." Here is the paragraph in full:

The acceptance of the Atonement by everyone is only a matter of time. 2 This may appear to contradict free will because of the inevitability of the final decision, but this is not so. 3 You can temporize and you are capable of enormous procrastination, but you cannot depart entirely from your Creator, Who set the limits on your ability to miscreate. 4 An imprisoned will engenders a situation which, in the extreme, becomes altogether intolerable. 5 Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. 6 Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there be a better way. 7 As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point. 8 This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight. 9 The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute. 10 But the outcome is as certain as God.
unquote (ACIM:T-2.III.3)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rehabilitating Judas

(Note: The title of this post is a link to the edited text of Ken Wapnick's workshop on The Metaphysics of Separation and Forgiveness - forgiveness being the central theme of "Rehabilitating Judas.")

When Jesus in the NT accounts finds his disciples, it says in Mk. 1:16-18 "Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightaway they forsook their nets and followed him."
This presents a beautiful image. Of course in one way or another we are all fishers, making a living somehow recovering sustenance out of the sea of life, the world of time and space, symbolized here by the Sea of Galilee. And the willingness of Simon and Andrew to drop their pursuit, and follow Jesus is likewise impressive. I think we should understand this also mostly symbolically. I.e. it isn't what you're doing, but how you do it, or as the Course would say who you do it with (with the ego or with Jesus). It doesn't necessarily mean that we always need to change the form of what we are doing, but certainly who we are doing it with i.e. the ego or Jesus, i.e. we need to change our investment in the world. In the present case however, making the disciples into fishers of men further extends the image of what Jesus' ministry is all about: pulling us our brothers out of the sea of life and into the world of the spirit. And of course our ego can flop around like a fish out of water in the process, since it sees only death, and the resolution doesn't come until we can identify more with Jesus, and realize that we are also spirit, and not our egos or our bodies.

Part of this flip-flopping like a fish out of water, which we do in this process, is essentially a switching back and forth between ego and spirit. Our allegiance to spirit is weak at first, and we want back in the water that we knew. In the Course this issue is addressed in numerous ways, one important section being "The Development of Trust," in the Manual for Teachers. It deals very specifically with the shifting of our values from the values of time (the sea of Galilee) to the values of eternity, and it makes no secret about the discomfort of this transition.
Another passage which reflects this "flipflopping" stage is:
7 As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point. 8 This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight. 9 The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute. 10 But the outcome is as certain as God.
" (ACIM: T-2.III.3:7-10)

The disciples, representing the Twelve, the signs of the Zodiac, as a group represent simply all forms of human experience and character. And they represent our willingness to follow Jesus as well as our failings in doing so, including our frequent falling down, and relapsing to our old value system. In the book Disappearance of the Universe there is an interesting comment that most of the apostles still needed another twenty odd incarnations before they "got it."

Quite clearly Judas' reported "betrayal," was such a relapse, and in our practice of forgiveness, forgiving Judas is likely to come up, in the same way that everything else comes up, namely as and when we realize that he is a character in the play we're in, which we've projected on the screen in order to have a scapegoat for our guilt over the fact that we feel responsible for nailing Jesus to the Cross. Recognizing that means the first step. It is the reversal of projection, and taking back responsibility for that for which we condemned our brother. Next comes the "Little Willingness" to be wrong and to ask the Holy Spirit for help instead, it means relinquishing the ego's judgment. The final and third step of the process is the Holy Spirit's work entirely, and the crucial point is for us not to fill in and try to do his work for him, thus "adding the ego to him." We all have a strong tendency to want to do too much.

J. W. Kaiser offers some interesting commentary to Judas, as follows, in his commentary on Mk. 14:10, on p. 254 of his book "Beleving van het Evangelie," (I'm working on a translation titled "Experiencing the Gospel):
"Judas Ishkarioth. The Archetype who sees the highest Salvation as the highest, purest, elevation of Form, is affected more painfully than any of the others by the Destruction of the Form, by complete surrender, by complete Dedication to the Master.
That is the hour in which he "falls;" in which he, not as a thief or murderer, but as Disciple, chosen by the Master himself, becomes the bearer of the Failings of his Brothers, a Failing which in him as the one most tied to Form, must take Shape.
Therefore it has the appearance that he bears the great Guilt alone. Therefore it is as if those others fled only in their upset, and only mourned until the Master appeared to them.
In truth all failed, and always fail, so that Judas has to fail, also because of their Guilt.
This we may remember as Initiates, that the moment when we take offense at the Surrender to the Master, our soul is promptly headed for the Chief Priest.
For then we are prepared, because our Image of Him is being violated, to sell His Truth to the power of dogmatism and fanaticism.
This is what all Initiates do, because they are still weak and selfish.
But when the Thirty unwanted silver pieces burn in their hands, they know: "I have betrayed innocent blood." The Judas-wage is this despair. For everyone who wants to be a Follower, his is the image of Yielding to the norms of this earth.

And here, in very different language than what we find in A Course in Miracles, the same issues are addressed, based on the Gospel story: healing can only take place by taking ownership of the projection of our guilt onto Judas. He merely happens to be the character who plays that part in the cosmic drama of the Gospel, but his character merely represents a part of us, and in forgiving him, by identifying with true empathy with Judas as a brother we can own the fact that we've failed in the same way so many times, and forgive ourselves for it.

In lesson 197, paragraph 2, the Course offers the following:
How easily are God and guilt confused by those who know not what their thoughts can do. 2 Deny your strength, and weakness must become salvation to you. 3 See yourself as bound, and bars become your home. 4 Nor will you leave the prison house, or claim your strength, until guilt and salvation are not seen as one, and freedom and salvation are perceived as joined, with strength beside them, to be sought and claimed, and found and fully recognized.

In other words, our judgments imprison and enslave us, forgiveness sets us free.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Theology and Projection

In the ego-system all is uncertain, and unstable, because it is based on nothing.

Starting from the Course's concept of "the tiny mad idea" - the thought of separation is evidently all smoke and mirrors, and the Course explains the instability of the ego-identity from that ontogenesis.

Thus when the ego forms its God concept, after the third split, when we're fully identified with the wrong mind, of necessity we project what we deny, in this case the hateful thought of the separation onto God. So now he is the angry God of Genesis who chases Adam and Eve out of the Garden. He is the object of the fear of God. Here is how the Course describes the dynamics of this ego process of projection:

A split mind is endangered, and the recognition that it encompasses completely opposed thoughts within itself is intolerable. 4 Therefore the mind projects the split, not the reality. 5 Everything you perceive as the outside world is merely your attempt to maintain your ego identification, for everyone believes that identification is salvation. 6 Yet consider what has happened, for thoughts do have consequences to the thinker. 7 You have become at odds with the world as you perceive it, because you think it is antagonistic to you. 8 This is a necessary consequence of what you have done. 9 You have projected outward what is antagonistic to what is inward, and therefore you would have to perceive it this way.
unquote (ACIM:T-12.III.7:3-9)

In essence then, while in certain gnostic teachings there was an awareness that the creator God was not the real God, until the Course, and importantly not till after Freud, there was not the sophistication to express the dynamics of this projection. With that added dimension, suddenly the gnostic mythology starts to make more sense.

Since Christianity throughout has been a worldly religion, which made the world real and which occupied with the God who made the world, it has of necessity occupied itself mostly with this projected God of the ego, who therefore becomes the embodiment of our authority conflicts etc.

As I've pointed out elsewhere, the Gospel according to Thomas, recognized now as more original and likely truer to Jesus's actual expressions, implies a non-dualism which is harder to discern in the canonical Gospels, though certain aspects of those, properly seen, are also actually easier to understand from the standpoint of non-dualism. Certainly it was no accident that the Thomas Gospel was suppressed, and nearly totally destroyed. And logically, theology completed the task which the compilers of the NT canon started, i.e. to build a fanciful thought system around this ego-God who created this world, which grants the world reality, and subsequently to develop interpretations of Jesus which focus on his being in this world, which make his crucifixion a center piece, rather than the resurrection, and which interpret the second coming as his return to this world, again underscoring the reality of that world itself.

In our work with the Course we can make sense of this whole scenario. We can repeatedly see in ourselves and others the tendency to tell Jesus what it is he's saying, rather than to listen to him. At times like that we engage in long detours. And the difference, which after a while becomes readily discernable is this: if we practice the Course faithfully, we are led to experiences which make its terminology clearer and clearer. It has the deliberate structure of a spiral staircase which reinforces that experiential learning. This is very clear in the experiences of forgiveness and joining, true empathy, etc., beginning with the entire workbook, which we can argue about till the cows come home, or do the exercises, and thus learn their meaning based on our own experience. Conversely when we choose to argue with the teaching, and tell Jesus what he should teach, we are practicing theology on the small scale, i.e. we are now projecting our stuff onto Jesus and God. This is what the dialectic mind will try to do all the time, since this ensures the survival of the ego. It is the experience of doing the workbook lessons, and the ongoing forgiveness practice in our lives which can only put us in touch with the real teachings of the Course, the non-dualistic teaching which it promulgates, and which remains a closed book, unless we are doing the work the Course gives us to do.

And then it finally dawns on us that even in the NT it was repeatedly stated that all Jesus's teachings comes to us in parables, but that to the apostles individually he explains everything. c.f. Mk. 4:34 "But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples." As a side note we might understand the concept of "being alone with Jesus," more in the sense of "joining with Jesus," which naturally is in the mind. Thus, seen in this light of inner experience, theology remains an exploit of the dialectic mind, which serves to separate us from the experience of following Jesus. And as Course students we can see this behavior with increasing clarity in ourselves and others. And this distinction makes it very clear why only doing the actual work, makes it possible for the Course to deliver what it promises: a more peaceful life.

The Course provides the following admonitions to this point:

The ego will demand many answers that this course does not give. 2 It does not recognize as questions the mere form of a question to which an answer is impossible. 3 The ego may ask, "How did the impossible occur?", "To what did the impossible happen?", and may ask this in many forms. 4 Yet there is no answer; only an experience. 5 Seek only this, and do not let theology delay you.
unquote (ACIM:C-in.4)


A universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary. 6 It is this experience toward which the course is directed. 7 Here alone consistency becomes possible because here alone uncertainty ends.
unquote (ACIM:C-in.2:5-7)

Copyright (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Explaining the Mysteries of the Faith

ACIM says:

The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. 2 No matter what the form of the attack, this still is true. 3 Whoever takes the role of enemy and of attacker, still is this the truth. 4 Whatever seems to be the cause of any pain and suffering you feel, this is still true. 5 For you would not react at all to figures in a dream you knew that you were dreaming. 6 Let them be as hateful and as vicious as they may, they could have no effect on you unless you failed to recognize it is your dream.
This single lesson learned will set you free from suffering, whatever form it takes. 2 The Holy Spirit will repeat this one inclusive lesson of deliverance until it has been learned, regardless of the form of suffering that brings you pain.
unquote (ACIM:T-27.VIII.10-11)

To put it a different way, we chose the separation, and we need to learn to un-choose it. The ego permanently sends us chasing our own tail by making us believe we can change the world. The sane lesson of the Holy Spirit is that there's only one thing we truly can change, and that is our mind, and that is our only job as students of the Course. This process entails a gradual revaluation of all of our values, or as the Course puts it:

To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. 2 Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning. 3 No belief is neutral. 4 Every one has the power to dictate each decision you make. 5 For a decision is a conclusion based on everything that you believe. 6 It is the outcome of belief, and follows it as surely as does suffering follow guilt and freedom sinlessness. 7 There is no substitute for peace.
unquote (

In a way, because the Course is presented within the historical framework of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and because it uses a number of terms chiefly from Christian theology but very explicitly uses them in a different sense than they have been traditionally used, it forces us right there to begin that process of "questioning every value." Perhaps the biggest item is the Course's rejection of vicarious salvation, which is a core tenet of mainstream Christianity.

Fundamental to the Course process is the notion that no outside savior could save us, but rather that we need to save ourselves by undoing a wrong decision we believe we have made. This notion does have a precedent in Biblical literature, in the NT statement of "taking up your cross and following Jesus," which we would now understand as take responsibility for the decision your made, and the predicament it put you in, and follow Jesus on the path of Salvation, which is the forgiveness practice which is taught in the Course. And in terms of forgiving ourselves, and letting go of our error (the choice for the ego), it is not possible unless and until we admit making the choice in the first place.

By changing our mind, and learning to ask the Holy Spirit for help, instead of the ego, we are learning in small steps to join with Jesus in our minds, and look at the drama of our life with growing detachment, and as a useful classroom, rather than a horrid tragedy. And in that process we slowly begin to appreciate what non-dualism means as experience, not as an intellectual concept, which we have a very hard time fathoming.

Through our own experience we then learn more and more to appreciate the very core of the non-dualistic nature of the Course's teaching. And that the Course's use of Christian terminology in essence is explained entirely by this non-dualistic framework, which is very different from the Christian, dualistic framework, in which God made the world, and in which Jesus was a figure in the world, who is scheduled to come back to the world in the second coming. In the Course Jesus is our elder brother, who helps us choose "another way," and helps us follow him out of this world - i.e. to leave our identification with our ego self and the world of duality behind in favor of our true identity as spirit, in which we are one with the entire sonship, and therefore with Jesus. In this context we may be reminded of the following:

You may complain that this course is not sufficiently specific for you to understand and use. 2 Yet perhaps you have not done what it specifically advocates. 3 This is not a course in the play of ideas, but in their practical application.
unquote (ACIM:T-11.VIII.5:1-3)

Without the practice of the Course's teachings of choosing the atonement for ourselves, its words remain just hollow words.

It is worthy of note that the Gospel according to Thomas is increasingly causing a stir, and, as I've seen in some of the on-line discussions, at least some people are grappling with the realization that it almost demands a non-dualistic understanding of the teachings of Jesus. As students of the Course we could not be surprised that through the explanation in DU, this inner consistency of the Thomas Gospel with the Course teaching has been developed. And therefore it should become clearer and clearer to us how in the development of Christianity as a worldly institution, a religion, the shift from non-dualism to dualism was made, and the dialectic mind (ego) developed a theology around the figure of Jesus. The purpose of this theology was to give Jesus meaning to the world. And the only way to explain away the inconsitencies with the original non-dualistic teachings was in "hiding" them in the assumptions of the theological thought system, as "mysteries of the faith," which were given salvific value, if we accepted them.

In this process two things happen, one is that instead of following Jesus out of the world of duality into his non-dualistic Kingdom of the mind, based on following him and experientially learning the meaning of his word, we now get to make intellectual confession to a faith about him that will validate our life on this earth, but magically save us from our sins (vicarious salvation). It is the ego's way of having your cake and eating it too. And secondly teachers now become important to explain Jesus, to explain the mysteries of the faith, etc. and with the importance of teachers, come differences of opinion, and endless theological rifts and splits, until the present day. In other words the teaching is now firmly pulled into the realm of the dialectic mind, and out of the realm of inner experience. Which is the ego's purpose, since the thought of separation, constantly needs to validate itself, since it so obviously is not true.
The inner tradition of those like Valentinus and some others who truly attempted to follow Jesus, is then poohpooed as "gnosticism" and "mystery religions," etc. and nearly completely obliterated out of history, and they are written out of the mainstream belief, which ultimately gets codified as the Nicene Creed, in which we simply accept unexplained premises as the mysteries on which our faith is founded. These are assumptions we are not supposed to question. The Course instead, much like Socrates did for the youth of Athens, exhorts us to: "Question every value that you hold." Caveat emptor. The consequences might include peace, freedom and happiness.

N.B. The title to this article is a link to Ken Wapnick's Lighthouse article "The World as the Royal Road to Heaven," which is an expression of the practical implications of the notion that Duality is Metaphor (the name of a tape set by Ken Wapnick), or to put it in Biblical terms: Jesus teaches in parables, but to the apostles individually (i.e. if they join with him in the mind) he explains everything.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

On Speaking Prematurely, and Being Wrong

The Course says the ego always speaks first, and is always wrong.

Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Answer, not the question. 2 The ego always speaks first. 3 It is capricious and does not mean its maker well. 4 It believes, and correctly, that its maker may withdraw his support from it at any moment. 5 If it meant you well it would be glad, as the Holy Spirit will be glad when He has brought you home and you no longer need His guidance. 6 The ego does not regard itself as part of you. 7 Herein lies its primary error, the foundation of its whole thought system.
" (ACIM:T-6.IV.1)

and the Holy Spirit always has the answer:
You cannot understand the conflict until you fully understand the basic fact that the ego cannot know anything. 2 The Holy Spirit does not speak first, 3 Everyone has called upon Him for help at one time or another and in one way or another, and has been answered. 4 Since the Holy Spirit answers truly He answers for all time, which means that everyone has the answer
" (ACIM:T-6.IV.3)

In the NT this issue of the ego's speaking first and being wrong is reflected in a slightly different way. And in the context of understanding everything as parable, we need to realize that the twelve apostles represent the twelve modalities of human character, complete with their innate capabilities of right-minded as well as wrong-minded responses. The stories of the NT reflect this. In the parable that is the gospel story, these twelve follow Jesus, but at many points they waffle, they're not so sure, etc. In other words, they are just like us, starting students of the Course who go back and forth in our experience, and sometimes want to throw the book against the wall, and other days feel blessed to be reading it. To be sure, in following Jesus, they demonstrated an openness and interest in "another way," in their lives, beginning at least a change from their traditional modes of living towards the promise of a Kingdom not of this world held out by Jesus.

Here is a piece of the story as it pertains to Peter:
27 And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am?
28 And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.
29 And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.
30 And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.
31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.
34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
" (Mk. 8:27-38)

After we sort of get done shaking off some of the prejudice of our traditional reading of the passage, we can reflect on its meaning from a more right minded perspective. In essence, Peter, the Sagittarius apostle, also known as Simon the Doubter, on the one hand intuitively recognizes Jesus, but on the other hand gets concerned about the impending loss of the form. Jesus meanwhile obviously knows he is not his body, and that his teaching is the resurrection, not the crucifixion, and therefore that the concern is an ego-reaction. And Jesus rebukes Peter for giving in to this concern, but if the words would have been quite so sharp as tradition has it is another matter, of course... but, in the teaching that follows, Jesus in essence teaches Peter that hanging on to the (empty) form in the world gives you nothing, when you could have everything (i.e. the Kingdom, the Peace of God, or whatever you wish to call it.)

So Peter is waffling, as we all do as beginning students between our trust in content and form (this is what the development of trust is all about), and Jesus tries to shake him out of it. Thus when Jesus at another place calls for Simon to become Peter, to become the rock on which his "church" is built, obviously he is really talking about that Simon needs to stop placing his trust in the ego system (form = perishable, unstable) and instead place his trust in the Holy Spirit (Content, spirit, eternal), for on THAT rock his church is built, i.e. the oneness of the sonship, for in spirit all is one. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a community of bodies, much less with a community whose first act was to separate themselves from the Jewish community of which they were a part, and then after that separation, to split again and again, and again, and strive to establish truth by the sword. Jesus' teaching to Simon Peter has everything to do with joining with Jesus in our right mind, and building our path on that.

Thus the figure of Simon Peter, symbolizes just how the ego always misunderstands Jesus, in essence by taking him literally, by placing form above content, by not looking at things with him from above the battleground, and allowing a real change of mind. The later misunderstanding of the church as buildings and a community just continues on that path of misunderstanding, as if it were all still about doing something in the world. And so the story stands as a reminder of the tough time we all have in trusting in the abstract, rather than the concrete... but what we inevitably need to learn is to hang back and let the holy spirit speak through us, rather than to let the ego's urgency prevail. The meaning of the parable reveals itself to us only by following Jesus in our own life, and once we have tasted even once what it means to be in our right mind, we understand what Jesus meant with asking Simon to become Peter, the rock - upon which his "church" is built.

Copyright (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.

Reflections on the Desert

The desert in the Course is clearly a symbol of the ego system.
It is barren, dry, as symbol of scarcity, and... of being deserted, which would be the typical ego projection, namely feeling deserted shifts the blame away from us to some deserter (who we also make up).

The ego, which IS the thought of separation, majors in separation anxiety, and abandonment feelings, and uses this strategy to project the guilt and responsibility for its decision to separate onto another, be it God, a father or mother, spouse, etc. The parade goes on and on.

As Ken Wapnick reports in "Absence from Felicity," Helen at one point experienced Jesus as saying: "What you do with a desert is you leave." Clearly that is in line with the notion that he is teaching us that his Kingdom is NOT of this world.

Meanwhile, here is another interesting use of the symbol of the desert in the Course, in this case the idea is letting go of the (self-imposed) limitations of the separation and letting God's love into our Little Garden (which is a desert as long as we're separated). To put it differently, the point here is giving up the separation thought which created the desert in the first place, and letting the sun shine in.:

Love knows no bodies, and reaches to everything created like itself. 2 Its total lack of limit its meaning. 3 It is completely impartial in its giving, encompassing only to preserve and keep complete what it would give. 4 In your tiny kingdom you have so little! 5 Should it not, then, be there that you would call on love to enter? 6 Look at the desert–dry and unproductive, scorched and joyless–that makes up your little kingdom. 7 And realize the life and joy that love would bring to it from where it comes, and where it would return with you.
The Thought of God surrounds your little kingdom, waiting at the barrier you built to come inside and shine upon the barren ground. 2 See how life springs up everywhere! 3 The desert becomes a garden, green and deep and quiet, offering rest to those who lost their way and wander in the dust. 4 Give them a place of refuge, prepared by love for them where once a desert was. 5 And everyone you welcome will bring love with him from Heaven for you. 6 They enter one by one into this holy place, but they will not depart as they had come, alone. 7 The love they brought with them will stay with them, as it will stay with you. 8 And under its beneficence your little garden will expand, and reach out to everyone who thirsts for living water, but has grown too weary to go on alone.
Go out and find them, for they bring your Self with them. 2 And lead them gently to your quiet garden, and receive their blessing there. 3 So will it grow and stretch across the desert, leaving no lonely little kingdoms locked away from love, and leaving you inside. 4 And you will recognize yourself, and see your little garden gently transformed into the Kingdom of Heaven, with all the Love of its Creator shining upon it.
unquote (ACIM:T-18.VIII.8-10)

In the Bible, the symbolism is clearly of the desert as a depiction of the emptiness of the ego system. One famous passage is the temptation in the desert at the outset of Jesus's ministry, reported in Mk 1:12-13 as follows:
12 And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.
13 And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

The details are in Mt. 4:1-11, and Lk. 4:1-13, where the story is expanded to the three temptations, which we could paraphrase as follows:
1) making bread out of stones - the temptation to make something living out of someting dead (ego), i.e. investing in the illusion,
2) all the kingdoms of the world - the ego's "everything" is really nothing, this means letting go of any hope in the ego system and the world: "And you will think, in glad astonishment, that for all this you gave up " (ACIM: T-16.VI.11:4)
3) self-destructive behavior - the temptation of tempting fate, an appeal to the ego's grandiosity,

Why do these temptations arise "in the desert?" Very simply because it is in the experience of the desolation of the ego system the temptation arises to "do" something about it, to make something of it. Jesus's answer however repeatedly shows the other choice, of leaving the desert, rather than trying to fix it up. Or in terms of the Course, the point is to not take the empty(!) promises of the ego seriuously any longer, therein lies our sanity.

With the Course we would understand that this means not asceticism (rejecting the world), but rather it means withdrawing our expectation from the world, which has nothing to offer. It means not to expect our salvation from the world. In fact the false expectations of the world are simply the illusory projections of the ego system, which we say goodbye to in choosing to follow Jesus. Which needs to be seen in the context of the Course's "being in the world but not of it."
This is one area where early Christianity went wrong in a variety of different ways, in rejecting the world as evil. With the Course in hand we would start to see that the world is not the problem, but our expectations are the problem, and "being in the world but not of it," in that sense means simply not placing our faith in the promises of the world. "Therefore, seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world." ( Thus the path of wisdom is not to take the world so seriously, as we are realize it is not our reality. "This place of darkness is not your home." (ACIM:T-20.VI.7:5)

In the Old Testament the story of salvation in Exodus is again portrayed as a trek through the desert, and the symbolism is equally clear. Most importantly perhaps the path is always one through the desert to get out of the desert, which in the Course is generally reflected as Jesus's constant admonitions to look at the ego with him. The path of the world always is to ignore or deny the hidden purpose of the ego system, the path of salvation always is to look at it or confront it, but with the love of Jesus beside us, rather than the judgment of the ego, which would simply shift the blame.
The important first step of "looking" entails a joining with Jesus, "above the battleground," as the Course calls it, this means to look at our lives with Jesus' "eyes" rather than the ego. By joining him in the quiet center of the storm, we can look at the raging of the ego system with him, which means we're looking from a place in our mind (non-duality) at our life in the world (duality), but choose another interpretation, which always starts with the "little willingness," to entertain the notion that the ego could be wrong, and to ask our Inner Teacher for "another way," no different than Helen and Bill in that fateful moment when Bill expressed that question and Helen agreed to help him find it. The way out won't become visible unless we're willing to look, and go for help from our right mind rather than our wrong mind. And only from that place "above the battleground" can we learn to reinterpret the world in a different light. That shift in perception is the miracle which gave the Course its name.

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.